50% of traffic police are wasted at junctions

Published : DNA

The question most frequently asked during public interactions is why policemen are standing hidden behind trees away from junctions to catch traffic violators (read signal jumpers) instead of being at the junctions to stop them from jumping the signal.Here the comment ‘hiding behind trees’ is disputable since there are hardly any trees left at the junctions. But, yes, policemen do stand away from the junction for the simple reason that it is impossible to catch the violator at the place of violation due to speed and that increases the chances of accidents. Policemen have to flash the message and flag down the violators at least a hundred metres away.

But the real question is why should the drivers jump the red light just because policemen are not visible to them. ‘Red’ means ‘stop’ irrespective of whether a traffic cop is visible or not. If at every junction we have to put cops to prevent people from jumping signal, then why put traffic signals at all? Let’s not forget that there is no one in the city who does not know what the ‘red’ signal means. Hence, it is not an issue of awareness but that of the attitude.
In fact, the tragedy is that even after introducing technology, we still have to waste 50% of the force at junctions instead of redeploying them in residential areas which are totally neglected today. Instead of searching around whether cops are watching or not, why can’t drivers focus on the traffic light? Unless technology by itself guides road users’ behaviour, we would need tens of thousands of cops to stand at every possible location of traffic violation.
Bus drivers stop at a bus shelter only if a cop is standing there. All one ways, instead of ‘no entry’ sign boards, we require cops at the entry points. And why forget the footpaths? The traffic police have to stand not only at junctions but also on mid-blocks to ensure commuters do not climb and ride on footpaths.
Extending this logic a little further, we may need a cop in front of every pub so that no one comes out of pub and drives. And why put ‘no parking’ boards? Instead, place a cop in front of every possible space on road or footpath which could be abused for parking and so on.
Citizens are great supporters of enforcement of traffic rules till they themselves are found on the wrong side of law. It is then that philosophical debate about methods of enforcement, and poor and inadequate infrastructure starts. Then there is another argument which goes on endlessly in the middle of the road, as to “why me” when there are so many others violating.
By the time every such argument reaches a logical end, tens of more people would have jumped the signal. Can a fish caught in the fishing net complain “why me” when there are millions in the sea?
We need to follow the rules because it is the right thing to do. That others are also breaking rules is no justification for a wrong act. Enforcement is always random. It is neither possible nor intended to catch every violator on the road. Each prosecution sends a message to a hundred others not to violate traffic rules.
Then there is a section of commuters who detest signals. Signals are time-sharing devices that allow one direction at a time and bring orderliness and discipline. The impression that signals slow traffic movement is a myth.
A chaotic movement at 5kmph is no better than stop and go as traffic should move in packets. Signals also are the only place for pedestrians to cross the road safely. World over, commuters get regulated by signals, road markings and road signages.
Countries are doing away with cops on the roads and relocating them indoors behind computers and camera screens backed by tough regime of penalties. How long can we continue with 19th century traffic management that survives on the presence of traffic cops everywhere? Of course, scarce resources, inadequate penetration of technology into all strata of society and a less-than-perfect infrastructure compel us to use a combination of manpower and technology on our roads.
But in long run, we have to march towards technology-driven management and not the other way round. Otherwise, it will be a typical case of ten steps forward and five stepsa backward.

Author: Praveen Sood 

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